The Age of Innocence HTML version

Chapter 4
In the course of the next day the first of the usual betrothal visits were
exchanged. The New York ritual was precise and inflexible in such matters; and
in conformity with it Newland Archer first went with his mother and sister to call
on Mrs. Welland, after which he and Mrs. Welland and May drove out to old Mrs.
Manson Mingott's to receive that venerable ancestress's blessing.
A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an amusing episode to the young
man. The house in itself was already an historic document, though not, of course,
as venerable as certain other old family houses in University Place and lower
Fifth Avenue. Those were of the purest 1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-
rose-garlanded carpets, rosewood consoles, round-arched fire-places with black
marble mantels, and immense glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old
Mrs. Mingott, who had built her house later, had bodily cast out the massive
furniture of her prime, and mingled with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolous
upholstery of the Second Empire. It was her habit to sit in a window of her sitting-
room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for life and fashion to flow
northward to her solitary doors. She seemed in no hurry to have them come, for
her patience was equalled by her confidence. She was sure that presently the
hoardings, the quarries, the one-story saloons, the wooden green-houses in
ragged gardens, and the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would
vanish before the advance of residences as stately as her own--perhaps (for she
was an impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobble- stones over which
the old clattering omnibuses bumped would be replaced by smooth asphalt, such
as people reported having seen in Paris. Meanwhile, as every one she cared to
see came to HER (and she could fill her rooms as easily as the Beauforts, and
without adding a single item to the menu of her suppers), she did not suffer from
her geographic isolation.
The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a
flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman
with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a
natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as
all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to
her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the
centre of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. A
flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom
veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature portrait of the late
Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave after wave of black silk surged away
over the edges of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised like
gulls on the surface of the billows.